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Rudaw

Analysis

America and Russia might patch-up the Sykes-Picot border

By Paul Iddon 15/2/2016
The Kurdish Peshmerga forces. AFP Photo.
The Kurdish Peshmerga forces. AFP Photo.
In Iraq and Syria the United States and Russia are acting as the de-facto air forces for the central authorities in those two countries. Russian air power has helped the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad make highly notable advances against his enemies while American-led coalition air strikes are slowly helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces roll back the Islamic State (ISIS).

As the two major powers involved in the future of both Iraq and Syria Moscow and Washington are both committed to preserving those two nation states in the territorial forms which existed before ISIS symbolically dismantled the Sykes-Picot border in the summer of 2014.

Just in recent weeks we have witnessed the Russians move on from helping the Syrians secure the important western province of Latakia to giving close air support to simultaneous ongoing offensives in Aleppo in the north and the southern province of Deraa. In both areas they are succeeding in severing supply lines to opposition forces running from the Turkish and Jordanian borders. The Russians clearly want to help the Syrian regime regain control of the country’s frontiers to both cut-off their opponents’ access to the outside world and to bolster its claim to be the sole legitimate government over all of Syria and its people. Assad has made clear, in a recent interview with AFP, that his intention is to reconsolidate his regimes control and dominance over all of that war-torn country.

In the east the Russians have also been giving support to an isolated detachment of Syrian soldiers in the provincial capital city of Deir Ezzor. There Syrian soldiers retain hold over the city’s airport and surrounding environs and are the only thing standing in the way of a complete ISIS takeover. Russia recently air-dropped them supplies and carried out airstrikes against ISIS there. The Syrian regime doubtlessly wants to open more logistical supply lines to them and if they can perhaps send additional forces to give the regime a larger foothold in that corner of the country.  

Such a strategy clearly indicates that Russia wants to keep Syria together by helping the regime reconsolidate its power and control over that fractured war-torn state. While it has commended the Syrian Kurds for their valiant efforts fighting Islamists like ISIS and views them as a workable partner (especially given the fact that they haven’t fought the Assad regime) Russia has stopped short of advocating any kind of meaningful autonomy for them.

In Iraq the Americans support the Iraqi bid to reclaim control over all of their territory. And while they do support the Kurds that support does not extend to backing their efforts to attain increased autonomy and self-rule, never mind independence (Washington strictly adheres to the parameters of the One Iraq policy). While the Kurdistan Region’s President Masoud Barzani has declared the end of Sykes-Picot ahead of its centennial the Americans and the Russians are making clear-cut moves to restore that very order. Neither is willing to fundamentally challenge the status quo upheld by their regional allies which rejects greater Kurdish autonomy or self-rule, let alone full-fledged independence.

Also what’s ironic about the fact that this coincides with the centennial of this order is the fact that borders may become re-solidified as a result of Baghdad and Damascus’s main backers seeking to decrease the other’s influence in each country. Not, in some ways, wholly unlike how imperial Anglo-Franco rivalry in that very same region saw those spheres of influence gradually shape and solidify those international boundaries and modern states.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Russia intensified its hitherto limited efforts against ISIS into a more wide-ranging air campaign in a bid to enable either Damascus and/or the Syrian Kurdish-majority Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to kick ISIS out of Raqqa and secure that area in order to decrease America’s role in Syria. Such a move would head off any American efforts to destroy the remnants of ISIS in Syria if the group is removed from Mosul in the not too distant future.

The United States has warned Baghdad not to permit or invite the Russians to expand their air campaign into Iraq, a country which is quite friendly with Assad and is the home of a coordination center between it and Damascus along with Moscow, Tehran and the Hezbollah militia, the so-called Russia-Syria-Iran-Iraq, or 4+1, coalition. Russia is seeking to undercut waning American influence in Iraq (it sent its largest business delegation in years to Baghdad in recent days) and is also trying to win over the Syrian Kurds by giving them more decisive support. Likely knowing they will serve as a buffer and general nuisance to its new regional rival Turkey. Washington is in turn seeking to keep what it calls “moderate” oppositions in the game to try and secure some leverage in that country.

Such factors indicate that the Sykes-Picot order, whose death has been deemed long overdue by those who attribute the many injustices and instabilities in the region to it, could well be restored at least partially by the actions of these two increasingly rival world powers in the Middle East.  

Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

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Hans Guderian | 16/2/2016
When Turkey deployed soldier in Kurdish region, essentially overriding Baghdad and aligning with Erbil, Kurds here were ranting. In time you will all see that the only nation that really helped and would have helped Kurds were the Turks. Yes, Turkish government was horrible in terms of cultural identities but they never persecuted or discriminated against Kurds for their ethnic background. Millions of Kurds had good lives in Turkey, living in peace along with Turks. You threw it away for an ethnic based nation state. Good going. Now, you no longer have a nation that called you brothers but instead is at the verge of hating you.
Alisuda rahmani | 16/2/2016
Turkey SOBs out of Syria, be annihilated by the russians!
Brzoo Kurdi
Brzoo Kurdi | 16/2/2016
No matter what the world says about Sykes-Picot the reality on the ground speaks very clearly,the reality is shouting that the map of the region must change ,it is easier for a cow to fly ,than for Syria to go back to where it was and business as usual impossible .the Kurds will never accept anything that does not give them complete control of their land ,and let us not forget that it is still much easier for a fish to live without water than for the Sunni and Shiite to live together ,we all know who Arab are ,intoxicated religious people ,who can never go beyond the stupidity of religion ,they will always stay behind. do you have to be an expert in world affair to see the reality ?
Karwan | 16/2/2016
unless we kurd are united and behave as one strong nation prepared to take big decisions… unless we fight for our rights.. no one will support us it is the time to go all the way.. and declare an independent kurdistan… our politician made that promise many times, never had the courage and determination to actually do it
guest worker | 16/2/2016
Doesn't matter what the US or Russia or anyone else does, Syria is a fake country constructed by the British-French from parts of a few Ottoman provinces a 100 years ago, Iraq the same. Climb the highest mountain and scream "Sykes-Picot" at the top of your lungs for as long as you like. These fake borders that have been crumbling for a century will come apart naturally, maybe not today but in a year, or 10 years, or 30, the end result will be the same. Look at short miserable history of Iraq and Syria, constant low or high intensity civil war and unrest, coup after coup. Fake countries held together only by one butcher dictator after the other. They can waste another trillion dollars, launch ten more invasions, install a 100 new dictators, the cold hard truth is they'll never get Iraq and Syria to function as normal states, and they both countries will fall apart in the end.
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